Midyear Review of 2019 State Immigration Legislation

Last Updated

August 22, 2019

This year, lawmakers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia convened for legislative session. As in previous years, immigration issues were a priority for many legislators. CLINIC tracked 430 pieces of legislation between January and July in 46 states and the District of Columbia. Close to 60 bills and resolutions have been adopted or signed by the governors. A total of 130 proposed bills had died by July 31, while the remaining bills continued through the legislative process. Lawmakers in Alaska, Delaware, Idaho and Louisiana did not propose immigration legislation. This report summarizes key measures addressed during the session.


Sanctuary City Policies

Sixteen states considered 26 pieces of legislation that addressed the ability of multiple localities to adopt policies to limit local officials’ participation in federal immigration enforcement activities. In New Mexico, lawmakers proposed HB 195 — which would have prohibited state officials from using resources to enforce federal immigration laws — but the bill died in the House Judiciary Committee. New Jersey’s legislature considered A 1925, a proposal to refund a local government for federal funds it lost due to its sanctuary status. The bill also died.

However, Arkansas enacted SB 411 to withhold funding from municipalities that adopt such policies, including those that limit local law enforcement from complying with immigration detainers. The law takes effect Jan. 1, 2020. Other states with similar restrictive bills, but were not enacted, are Michigan, South Dakota, Virginia and Wisconsin. 


Law Enforcement

CLINIC tracked 91 bills in more than half the states that addressed local police participation in federal immigration enforcement. Colorado enacted HB 1124, prohibiting local officials from using public resources in support of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) efforts. The bill further barred officials from arresting anyone based on a civil detainer request. Meanwhile, the Nebraska legislature considered LB 369, which would have required law enforcement agencies to provide public notice before entering into 287g agreements for immigration enforcement purposes. The bill did not pass out of the judiciary committee.


However, states such as Texas and Florida took an opposite stance on the issue. Texas enacted HB 888 — to impose criminal penalties on anyone who knowingly misrepresents a child as a family member at a port of entry. A violation of this law would result in a Class B Misdemeanor. Florida enacted a law, i.e., SB 168, requiring local law enforcement officials to “use best efforts” to assist federal officials with immigration enforcement. The city of South Miami and several local nonprofit organizations have filed a lawsuit to challenge the legality of the law.



Legislators in 26 states proposed at least 30 bills concerning the employment of noncitizen workers. While a few bills aimed to strengthen protections for immigrants, most measures focused on banning employers from hiring unauthorized workers. New York enacted SB 5791, making it an employment violation to threaten to report an employee or their family’s suspected immigration status to state or federal officials.

In Pennsylvania, lawmakers proposed HB 1170 to amend the Construction Industry Employee Verification Act — which requires employee work eligibility verification through the federal E-Verify system. The bill passed the house and is with the senate committee on appropriations. Other states with similar bills include Alabama, Iowa and North Carolina. The North Carolina bill, HB 63, would have expanded the state’s mandatory E-Verify law to require businesses with five employees or more to participate in the federal E-Verify program. Current law requires most businesses with 25 employees or more to verify newly-hired workers’ employment status through the system.

CLINIC’s new resource on the federal E-Verify program highlights the disadvantages of states requiring employers to participate in the program.



This year, 21 states put forth at least 40 pieces of legislation that addressed tuition equity for immigrants. Most of the proposed bills aimed to allow noncitizens to pay in-state tuition at public universities and colleges, or to give them access to state financial assistance. Arkansas enacted HB 1684 to allow recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and other holders of valid work authorization documents to pay in-state tuition. The governor of Illinois approved HB 2691 to create the Retention of Illinois Students and Equity Act. The act would provide financial assistance to noncitizen students who do not qualify for federal student aid. New York also enacted legislation to provide access to financial assistance for immigrants. The New York Dream Act, or SB 1250, established a privately--funded scholarship program to award scholarships to undocumented students and other qualifying residents. Other states where lawmakers considered bills to expand access to higher education for immigrants through in-state tuition laws were Michigan, Mississippi and North Carolina.

Please see CLINIC’s updated Tuition Equity Map for a national view of state laws that expand or restrict immigrants’ access to higher education.


Driver’s License

Kansas, Massachusetts and Minnesota are among the states that considered 32 proposed driver’s license measures. The bills aimed to expand immigrants’ access to driver’s licenses and state IDs. New York enacted the “green light” bill, or A 3675, making it the 13th state to offer licenses to undocumented residents. The law allows applicants who do not have a Social Security Number to provide unexpired foreign documents, such as a passport or consular ID, to prove their identity. However, similar to other state laws, licenses obtained under this law are not valid for official federal purposes — e.g., getting through airport security. The bill became law on June 17 and is scheduled to take effect 180 days later, on Dec. 14. Several counties in the state have either sued or announced plans to challenge the law in court. In addition to the New York law, Oregon also enacted legislation, i.e., HB 2015, to grant driver’s licenses to residents who cannot prove lawful presence in the United States; issuance of licenses is set to begin Jan. 1, 2021.

CLINIC’s updated Driver’s License Map shows the states that offer driver’s licenses to undocumented residents.  


Refugee Resettlement

A handful of states considered 13 measures that addressed refugee resettlement. Oregon enacted HB 2508 to appropriate funding for grant awards to refugee resettlement agencies looking to provide services to refugees in the state. Colorado enacted a law, i.e., SB 230, to provide refugees with cash and medical assistance, job skills training and other social services as part of the newly created Refugee Services Program. However, lawmakers in Mississippi and West Virginia proposed bills to limit refugee resettlement in their areas. The Mississippi bill, SB 2094, would have held local resettlement agencies civilly liable for unlawful actions of refugees they resettled. The West Virginia Refugee Absorptive Capacity Act, or HB 2664, would have allowed local governments to seek an order of moratorium from the governor if officials believed the community lacked sufficient absorptive capacity. Both bills died in committees.


Professional Licenses

Oregon’s governor approved SB 855, directing the state licensing boards to develop pathways to professional and occupational licenses for immigrants and refugees. Nevada enacted A 275 to bar regulatory agencies from denying licenses to applicants solely based on their immigration or citizenship status. The governor of Arkansas signed HB 1552 to allow DACA recipients to obtain nursing licenses in the state. However, the governor also approved HB 1658, allowing only applicants with citizenship or legal residency status to obtain an osteopathic physician license.

CLINIC’s updated backgrounder on state licensing laws highlights the benefits of granting professional and occupational licenses to noncitizens.



At least 10 states considered 30 resolutions that addressed various immigration issues. California lawmakers adopted a joint resolution, i.e., AJR 9, urging the federal government to cease the unjust detention of immigrants and blanket federal immigration enforcement raids. Illinois adopted HR 241 to call on Congress to pass a clean DACA bill that would give eligible recipients immediate security and a pathway to citizenship. The resolution also urges Congress to maintain and extend family-based immigration. The Kentucky House of Representatives adopted HR 122, commending the President for declaring an emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border and urging Congress to fund the construction of steel barriers along the southern border. Senators in Georgia also adopted a similar resolution to urge Congress to pass funding legislation to secure the southern border.


Referencing state immigration legislation CLINIC tracked between January and July. Prepared by staff attorney, Christy Williams.